(Sort Of) FO Fail: Cowl Conspiracy

Once I discovered what went wrong with my original Purl Soho Bandana Cowl, it wasn’t difficult to fix: I ripped everything out, cast on, and followed the instructions for the short rows to the letter. I also corrected a mistake I’d made while knitting the decreases toward the top of the piece that allow it to snuggle up against the chin. It only took two days to re-work the whole thing. The result is a finished cowl that looks exactly like the picture on the tin.

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Pattern: Purl Soho Bandana Cowl
Yarn: Berroco® Vintage® Chunky, 6181 Black Cherry

Since my yarn lacks the alpaca content of the original sample, it’s not quite as slouchy. It also seems like it’s not quite deep and wide enough, but I chalk that up to personal preference. In any case, it looks miles better than the first iteration. Here’s a little before-and-after action to really highlight the difference the short row changes makes. (The angle’s not the same, but you get the idea.)

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So why, if everything came out so much better, am I calling this a conspiracy? Well, yesterday I was looking at the yarn I still had left after knitting the earflap hat and this cowl. I’d seriously overbought on the yarn, but I’d had it too long to return it. I’m unlikely to buy this yarn base again, so I was determined to use up every little bit now rather than have it linger in my stash (I don’t like to stash anything I don’t have plans for). I’d barely dipped into the third and last skein, so I figured I had enough leftover for a hat. Nothing fancy, just a simple watch cap with a deep band of 1×1 rib I could fold up for extra wind protection and a body of 3×1 rib for interest.

After knitting the band during a series of car rides, I came home, took one look at the dwindling ball, and realized that if I kept going I’d end up in a game of yarn chicken that I couldn’t possibly win. I felt my heart sink a little. What to do? I definitely don’t want to buy any more of this yarn, and I don’t have any more bulky to mix it up with.

I let the matter rest overnight, and this morning I came to the obvious conclusion: I’d have to frog again. Not just the hat, but probably the cowl too. Of course, that would send me right back to the question of what to knit with almost two whole skeins of this yarn. So much frogging seemed like a sign.

Then it hit me: the yarn is rebelling. Clearly, it disapproves of my selfish desire to use up the leftovers on myself. (I don’t blame it, as I’m not sure I’ve really given it much love. It’s not the most sumptuous yarn I have to hand—that would be the Tanis Fiber Arts Yellow Label DK I’m using for my current sweater). I think what it wants is to be reunited with its sister skein, where it will be properly appreciated.

The way forward is clear. I’m off to do a bit more selfless knitting. There’s snow falling here, which certainly lends itself to an evening on the couch with a cocoa and the big squishy knitting project I’ve got planned now. I won’t get a snow day tomorrow unless we lose power, but there’s a good chance I’ll be working from home. If it’s snowing where you are, I hope you’re safe and warm and have a hot beverage nearby.

FO: Cranberry-Apple Bundt Cake

Gift knitting is interesting territory, a land that I’ve only recently ventured to and returned from. I’ve avoided it in the past, not because I don’t have knit-worthy recipients in my life, but because I understand that a hand-knit gift comes with a whole bundle of perfectly reasonable but daunting expectations. For instance, if you’re going to invest the time and effort into knitting someone a thing they’re going wear, then it’s not outrageous for the person to expect that thing to fit them well—you are, after all, creating fabric from scratch. But is there anything more challenging than fit? I’m not suggesting it’s a thing to be afraid of in and of itself—far from it!—but getting the particular fit that your loved one wants, often when they’re not present to check it, is a source of much nail-biting and hair-pulling. Is it too snug there, or too baggy there? Will it ride up/ride down/twist/do the tango?

And that’s just the first concern of every gift knit, to say nothing of the ones where the recipient isn’t involved in picking the yarn and/or the pattern. In those instances, you’re treated to an extra helping of uncertainty about scratchiness, or the precise shade of yarn, or the pattern placement.

Of course, none of that is to suggest that it isn’t worth it.

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Pattern: Based on Modell 108/1 A Mütze by Junghans-Wolle (free, German)
Yarn: Berroco® Vintage® Chunky, 6181 Black Cherry

This is my sister Loren’s cabled earflap hat, with pom poms. She requested a hat with these features while she was visiting for my birthday in November. Not wanting to reinvent the wheel, I set up a search in Ravelry for cabled earflap hats and then told her to pick out all of the ones she liked. She wasted no time, and an hour later she’d narrowed it down to three patterns, each of which had some but not all of the elements she was looking for. I assured her I could marry the designs into the ideal hat.

As you have no doubt noticed by now, I have an overwhelming tendency toward over-ambitious goals. I’d only knit one cabled item before this (two, if you count my first knitting project, a pair of fingerless mitts where each mitt ended up a different size and neither really fit), so I’m not exactly a cable-calculating wizard. The three patterns were all written for different weight yarns, and relied on different construction methods.

Aaaaand…the best pattern to use as a base was written in German. I don’t read German. But I sure tried! Google translate was useless, because the pattern used too many abbreviations. Between a German knitting abbreviation table and a German-to-English knitting glossary, I was able to piece together the basic instructions.

I needn’t have bothered, though, because after countless attempts I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t work the pattern bottom-up starting with the earflaps, because I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to do the increases. After a bit of stewing, I decided to convert the pattern to top-down. Luckily, the cable design is charted, so I improvised the increases and then followed the chart as written. I did “move” the earflaps so that they’re centered on a little cable instead of a big one, but that was only to make shaping the earflaps less fiddly.

I used two rows of single crochet to finish the edges, because I knew it would offer the right balance of firmness and flexibility. Also, it’s so much faster and easier to maintain tension with than any knitted bind off, at least for me. The ties are three-stitch I-cord. The pom poms were made with a Clover pom pom maker. (I’ve tried cardboard donut pom poms before. Never again. Those Clover doo-dads are worth every cent, in my opinion.)

I’m proud to report that the finished hat arrived on my sister’s doorstep earlier this week, and she was quite happy with the result. The color is the exact wine-y shade she was looking for to match her black, brown, and grey winter coats/jackets/blazers. Despite my fears that it might be too loose, she reports that it fits comfortably without flattening her hair completely or letting in any cold winds.

I confess, hearing that she liked it was a huge relief. I wanted to knit this hat for her, but the minute I committed to it I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to deliver. I was afraid I’d finish, and it would be all wrong, and she’d end up with a cabled earflap hat with pom poms, but not the cabled earflap hat with pom poms she’d been hoping for. I don’t like to let people down, and I think that an almost-but-not-quite-right thing might just be worse than no thing at all. Although backing out on a promise definitely doesn’t feel good, either.

I might be the one crazy knitter out there that actually wants my family and friends to ask for hand-knitted things, because I want to be able to make the kinds of well-constructed, pretty things that people are proud to wear. I’m so pleased that the hat’s being worn and enjoyed, and that getting a package in the mail really brightened an otherwise stressful week for my sister.

As for the project name, I’m also the kind of crazy knitter that spends a ridiculous amount of brainpower coming up with silly names for my finished knits. Usually I make some kind of play on the original pattern name, but while I was knitting the crown I couldn’t get the image of a bundt cake out of my head.

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As for the cranberry-apple part, well, the red wasn’t purple-y enough for just cranberries, and if I were making cake with cranberries in it, I’d probably throw in apple to balance the tartness with a little sweetness. Now I’m craving dessert…

Tell me, do you knit gifts? Does it ever make you anxious? Do you give any of your projects silly names?

FO Fail: Cowl Foul

Ah, the allure of the quick knit: cast on, click click click, and before you know it you’re binding off and jamming a new hat on your head or snuggling something warm about your neck. That was the goal with the Purl Bee’s Bandana Cowl, which I started last week during a bout of insomnia after finishing up another portable knit. It was late, but I wasn’t worried. I’ve knit cables, I’ve knit lace with thread-like yarn, I’ve knit with 1,000+ tiny, tiny beads—what’s a little bulky-weight yarn, US 10 needles, and stockinette in the round compared to that?

Apparently, a little more complicated than my smug self gave it credit for:

2015-02-11_2_Purl_Soho_Bandana_CowlI should have called this the Fowl Cowl. Doesn’t it look like an eagle’s beak?

As you’ve no doubt guessed, it’s definitely not intended to have a pronounced hook like that. About half way through I started to get suspicious that things were not going to plan, but I decided to trust the pattern and carry on. What I should not have trusted was my ability to read and follow simple instructions after my usual bedtime.

In order to get the bandanna shape, the pattern relies on short rows: rather than knitting the entire thing around and around like a hat, the front portion is knit back-and-forth, and each back-and-forth row connects to the next nearest stitch around the edge increasingly wider crescents. As a result, the front ends up longer than the back and creates the pleasing triangle shape.

For those of you interested in the technical bits, it goes a little something like this…

You start knitting, and then just past the point in the middle you stop, wrap the yarn around the next stitch without knitting it—we’ll call that wrapped stitch X

If you want the most dramatic short rows, the ones that will produce the biggest length difference between front and back, you wrap the next stitch after X, turn, purl to Y, wrap the next stitch after Y, turn, and continue in this fashion, working one more stitch in each direction on each pass.

This pattern, however, doesn’t require dramatic short rows, so instead of wrapping the very next stitch past X and the very next stitch past Y, you knit the first stitch past X and wrap the next one after that, and the same with the purl side. You turn the work half as often, gobble up the stitches twice as quickly, and produce a much shallower point, one that doesn’t curve in on itself. And that’s where I made my blunder: I missed the instructions to knit that extra stitch on each row, thereby giving myself double the work and creating the problems you see. Womp womp.

Another, less obvious problem I had is failing to follow the instructions for picking up wraps on the purl side as described i in the Purl Bee’s tutorial. Each wrap has two “arms” hugging the stitch its wrapped around, an arm on the public side of the work (the one people will see when it’s finished) and an arm on the private side of the work (the one against your skin). When picking up wraps, two things matter: making sure to lift the arm with the needle going front-to-back or back-to-front based on which side of the work you’re on (check!) and making sure to always lift the arm on the public side (whoops). I messed up picking up all of the private-side wraps. So on the public side, instead of being invisible, there is a little bar at the base of each stitch, like a purl bump. Lucky enough for me, the border of the cowl is garter stitch, so these bars blend in unless you’re looking very closely. Since they were basically unnoticeable, I was planning to leave them that way. But I’m going to be frogging and re-knitting the whole thing anyway, so this time I’ll make sure to pick up the wraps correctly too.

To be honest, I’m not even mad about the frogging. (Okay, I was a little mad, but only because I wanted a warm thing RIGHT NOW.) I was going to have some leftover yarn anyway, but now I think I can squeeze two small projects out of a single skein. And it should only take me four or five days to redo it, so it’s not like I’m going to run out of cold weather before I get to wear it. As far as failures go, I think this one is pretty manageable.

Maker Moment: Show-and-Tell

Today during my lunch break I decided to pry myself away from my desk and head into the break room to eat and knit. Although this break room is open for use by anyone in the company I work for, it’s across the hall from the two primary office spaces, so it’s seldom used by the larger departments. This afternoon, however, there was a young man that I hadn’t seen before eating lunch. He seemed engrossed in his phone, and I had my headphones and my knitting, so I hunkered down without introduction.

Pulling out my yarn and needles got his attention. He introduced himself, then asked what I was working on, if it might be a hat. It was a good guess given his vantage point, but I lifted the work off the table to show that it’s actually a bandanna-style cowl (the free Purl Soho Bandana Cowl, for those interested). He asked how long it would take to finish. I counted out the days that I’d worked on it already, added the one or two evenings left to finish up, and estimated that it will have taken a total of four or five days. Before he could become too impressed by my speed, I pointed out that the yarn and the needles are both quite large, which makes it easy to whip up something quickly.

Now, I know some people would find this kind of interaction bothersome—it’s their lunch break; they have precious little time to themselves, let alone to knit; and they don’t like to be peppered with questions. I’ve heard stories ranging from the anecdotes of mildly irritating folks who insist that crochet is knitting or that they don’t have the time to learn a craft themselves, to the horror tales of rude ne’er-do-wells who will snatch the work from the hands of its owner, threatening to send stitches leaping from the needles whilst demanding to know what the stitcher is making or frostily informing them that they’re “doing it wrong.” Even the well-meaning out there tend to interrupt us when we’re counting or give praise that makes us want to cringe a little. It’s enough to make many a crafter keep their knitting safely at home, venturing out only to the sanctuary of a local yarn store, if at all.

Despite being loath to engage in small talk, I am not one to shy away from knitting in public, and the unexpectedly happy ending to this story has reinforced to me why it’s so wonderful to be seen doing something I love.

See, after I showed off my cowl, my coworker surprised me by saying that he’d only ever stitched up one project, a wallet. I asked whether he had sewn it on a machine or by hand; in answer, he pulled it out of his back pocket. It was very worn, making it hard to tell if it was leather, vinyl, or cloth. Around the edge was an uneven blanket stitch worked in faded and slightly dingy orange thread.

“It’s not very good,” he admitted, but I said, “No, it’s great.”

“It’s almost falling apart. I need to make another one, but I guess I should work on getting better first,” he said sheepishly.

“It’s well-loved,” I countered. He grinned, and it was clear that even though it wasn’t the tidiest piece of work, and it was definitely on its last legs, he’d enjoyed the making and using of it.

It’s not often that I spot handmade goodness in the wild, so it was really heartening to not only see something someone made, but to know that my own handiwork is what encouraged them to pull it out in the first place. I consider myself lucky to have gotten that little peek into someone else’s creative life. I hope it’s not the last time, either.

Do you craft in public? What do you do when others ask about what you’re working on? I’d love to hear other uplifting stories, but if you’ve got a campfire tale of mayhem and madness, bring it on!

Assignment #20: Empty the Outbox

The last lap. It’s done. Finally. And it’s a good thing, too, because the section of the office that we’d designated for the outbox was starting to take over the room:


2015-02-07_1_OutboxHere’s the rundown of where everything went:

Housewares and clothes: Ranging from sweaters and belts to towels and decorative baskets, the items in the three boxes on the left went to the Raleigh GCF Donation Center & Store (Goodwill, for my Virginia readers). The box of housewares to the right is holding items that I’m tentatively saving for my sister-in-law, who recently moved into her first apartment. If she doesn’t want them, they’ll also go to GCF.

Shoes and fabric scraps: The shoes were too worn out to best re-sold in a GCF store, and the fabric scraps were too small to be reused in any of my projects for the foreseeable future. These items went to Clothes the Loop, The North Face’s textile recycling program.

E-waste and plastic bags: Empty ink cartridges. Batteries. An old computer case fan. A whole lot of plastic bags. Although there are probably a handful of different places that can handle these kinds of items, including municipal household waste disposal centers, I find it’s easiest to drop them off at Best Buy’s recycling station, which is always right inside the front doors.

In case you’re wondering, the box on the far left is full of sentimental stuff that I’m not sure what to do with yet. It’ll probably linger in the outbox a while longer. If I come up with a creative solution for dealing with it, I’ll let you know, since I know that sentimental items are always a sticking point when you’re trying pare unneeded/unwanted items.

Restarts

If January started with a bang, then February definitely began with a sputter and cough for me. I wanted to carry the momentum of the January Cure into the new month, but my bank account had other things in mind. I had hoped to have finished knitting and sewing projects at the beginning of this week, but that just didn’t happen. No projects meant nothing to write, and that felt like I was failing to meet the two-to-three-posts-per-week target I’ve set for myself. Even though I knew it wasn’t the result of laziness, it felt like I’d let myself down. Combined with a bit of bother at work and time spent dealing with (minor) repairs to our only car, it definitely felt like this week was keeping me down.

Fortunately, I managed to bounce back yesterday, just in time to head into the weekend. Not only did I finally finish my first knitting project of the year—and my first selfless knitting project ever—and get it in the mail to the lucky recipient, but I also got two-thirds of the way through a new knitted cowl during a bout of insomnia AND restarted a sweater that I’d nearly finished for myself back in November that, sadly, had to be frogged due to fit/gauge issues.

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It’s not much, but it feels so promising to have those 2 inches of ribbing on the needles. I probably won’t fly through the knitting the way I did the first time since it’s working up on considerably smaller needles this go-’round, but I expect to have it done before cold weather leaves. And I will definitely photograph it in better lighting than I get in my east-facing apartment. At night. In the winter.

With any luck, my packet of knitted goodness will be in the new owner’s hands tomorrow, and then I can post the pictures I snagged before I sent it off. If my luck holds, maybe I can even coax a few modeled photos to share too.